It’s what it says on the can folks.. It’s been a while since I took the time to write about Yokai and I just got a hankering for it all the sudden.
By sheer coincidence, OWLS is doing folklore in honour of the Taylor Swift album as a theme this month and Yokai is one of the examples (I assume as part of the cultural oral tradition), However, the topic is in fact meant as an exploration of the traditions and cultures of a specific group and community within pop cultural texts and that is not what I am doing here at all.
No pop cultural texts involved, no term paper on cultures and traditions, just a general run down of a Yokai I think is cool cause the concept of it appeals to me personally. Basically I’m writing fluff for funsies. But since they are wonderful people, they allowed me to tag along anyways. Be sure to check out the OWLS tour for the more hard hitting stuff!
So let’s get on with it.
First let’s just knock off a definition so that everyone is on the same page. The way I always explain it is that Tsukumogami is stuff. It’s actual inanimate objects that have been around for so long and have been cared for and used and in time have absorbed a bit of the essence of everyone they’ve come into contact with and sort of grown their own “souls”. Please don’t memorize that description. It’s rubbish. I pretty much just decided on the spirit acquiring process.
To be a bit more accurate, Tsukumogami are often referred to as tools rather than simply stuff. Objects that are of use. That sort of implies that purely decorative pieces wouldn’t be able to become Tsukumogami but I’m not entirely sure on that.
Like a lot of Yokai, the details and legends around Tsukumogami have shifted and changed over the years. This particular type of Yokai was at it’s most popular during Japan’s middle age and although we do still hear reference to them now and then, it has steeply declined in popularity.
Like a lot of Yokai, and really a lot of Japanese myths in general, it seems these things have a connection with Oda Nobunaga but only in that one was used as a bribe to get him to stop warring with folks.
I read that early references to Tsukumogami dating back to the 10th century, were essentially used as Buddhist propaganda. I find the entire concept of this just great on so many levels. Does Buddhism really need propaganda? But if you’re going to have 10th century propaganda, animated helpful things is really the way to go.
Sadly, most of the Buddhist teachings have been stripped away from more modern Tsukumogami myths and the spiritual aspect of these Yokai is now largely underplayed. Still there are apparently still some religious ceremonies which are performed mainly to appease broken and no longer usable tools so that they do not become angry Tsukumogami.
As someone who is close to my stuff, I connect with this. I’m always sad when I have to bid farewell to an old computer that has served me well or a pair of really comfortable shoes. Comfortable shoes are a gift not to be taken likely. The should be honoured!
Now I know these Yokai might not sound very exciting when you have fabulous and often very attractively drawn Kitsune or playful hilarious Tanuki or powerful intimidating Tengu or really like a million Yokai to chose from. I wrote about just a few over here and some of them are amazing. There’s one that eats you nightmares! I want that!
But still, the humble Tsukumogami have a special spot in my heart. I don’t know how to explain it really but from the moment I learned of them, they were sort of my favourite Yokai. O.k. so my favourites change pretty often but these guys stay consistently top 5.
I think there’s something noble and endearing abut the idea that existence itself is something that imparts spirituality. I also like the idea that being useful to someone, anyone, has enough merit to be worthy of super powers. The fact is, Tsukumogami legends are fairly sparse and as I mentioned, have gone through a few iterations. As such, I ended up filling in a lot of blanks with my own headcanon. And admittedly, some of my fondness is because of that but the framework was appealing to me to begin with.
I love the mix of the mundane with the extraordinary. Sure fantasy is great but Urban Fantasy, now you’re talking! I’ve always been that way. I sort of think the world is magical as it is and full of wonder so to just have a bit of fantasy sprinkled it, isn’t out of place at all!
The Tsukumogami are sort of a representation of that drive within me. They are ordinary everyday things but have an extraordinary element to them. And that spark of magic isn’t born out of something completely foreign to our world either. They aren’t aliens or ancient gods (although in some legends they can be Tanuki or Kitsune that have taken the form of an object for too long, but let’s pretend you didn’t hear that). They are just normal things that have been around for a long time. Because the magic is already there, you just have to be patient and know how to look.
We aren’t dependent on the whims of Kamis or Elder ones to add a little wonder to our lives. We just need to take really good care of our umbrella!
The more I write, the less sense I make. I feel like I’m trying to explain a colour to a blind person. And as I’m trying to explain a feeling which is a vague longing of indeterminate source, it’s pretty much the same thing.
I guess in the end I have a deep rooted love for the ordinary but mostly because find it sort of extraordinary!
That’s it, that’s all I have to say about Tsukumogami. I’m not sure this post is for anyone but I still hope some of you found bits of it interesting.
If nothing else, you can find where to read the next Owls post which will be from Takuto discussing Demon Slayer ! His blog is right here. Takuto is an awesome blogger so you just made reading this post worth while just to get this info!
And if you missed it, Jack had a great article on one of my favourite animes Durarara! Catch up with it here! Actually I’m assuming it will be great, it’s not written yet.. I hope I remember to update this link before this goes public… let’s see.